About two years ago I was at a meeting of the Bankstown Historical Society.
I was talking about the upcoming Centenary of ANZAC, and seeking their advice, and Ken Willis told me about the old Bankstown War Memorial that used to be at Bankstown Memorial Oval and was now in storage, at a Council Depot in Panania.
That set me on an expedition.
I went down to the depot on Bransgrove Road and I found it.
What stood out were the 31 names on it.
And the heading – Bankstown Heroes 1914-1918.
I thought – Who were these men? Where did they grow up? Where did they live? What did they do before the war? Why did they enlist? And what happened to them?
That’s how this book came about.
100 years ago Bankstown was a small semi-rural town. The railway line had just come through. The first gas street lamps were being installed.
The population was about 4000.
And about 350 went off to war.
What this book reveals is 54 – not 31 – never came home.
This book focuses on the 31 on that basalt memorial.
They were ordinary blokes – carpenters, wood turners, labourers, storemen, stone masons, picture framers, artists and milkmen.
The youngest was only 17 when he enlisted the oldest was 46.
And they fought and they died in some of the greatest battles of the war – from Lone Pine to Villers-Bretonneux.
One of the greatest feats of bravery at Villers-Bretoneux was from a Bankstown Boy. Private Fredrick Porter. A 22 year old milkman from Gow Street.
The book tells how he single handedly attacked a group of 10 German soldiers. Killed five and forced the rest to flee. In the fight he was wounded in the arm and broke his wrist. When the Germans realised he was wounded they attacked again. It was a bad mistake. Despite his injuries the milkman from Gow Street killed another two of them.
For his bravery Private Porter won a Distinguished Conduct Medal. He survived the Western Front. He died of influenza on the ship back to Australia. He never made it back to Bankstown. He was buried at sea on the 10th of November 1918. The day before the war ended.
Then there is the story of Private James Davis. A labourer from Carnation Avenue in Bankstown. He was charged with going AWOL in Gallipoli and “drunkenness while on active service” in France.
He died in 1917 – he fell out of a window in a village behind the front line. Reports indicate he was drunk at the time.
The book is full of stories like this. Stories of courage and sacrifice. Stories of human frailty. Sad stories. Desperately sad stories.
Stories about widows and mothers who, years after the war was over, were still searching for information on what happened to their husband or their boy.
There are still descendants of these men who live in the local area and we are lucky to have some of them with us here tonight.
John and Joy Donsworth of Panania – John is the nephew of Private John Lancelot Steer.
Rowan Morrison of Picnic Point – related to Private Alfred Briscoe.
And Mrs Murgatroyd of Picnic Point – related to Private Thomas Mawby.
This book wouldn’t be what it is without your help.
We also owe a great debt of gratitude to Ellen Hottleman and Jennifer Madden from Bankstown Library.
And a very big thank you to Adam Courtenay – the author of this wonderful piece of history.
And the indomitable Tim Carroll – a piece of Bankstown History in his own right. Tim and the team at Bankstown Youth Development Service have managed this project and pulled it all together.
This isn’t the only thing we are doing for Anzac Day.
After the war Bankstown Council bought Fripps Paddock, on the south side of the railway track, and the renamed it Memorial Oval.
It’s where that old basalt memorial with the 31 names on it used to stand.
It’s now back there.
Late last year Council took it out of the Bransgrove Road Depot and installed it on the northern hill at Memorial Oval.
On Anzac Day we are inviting everyone from the local community bring a blanket and come down to the Oval at 11am.
We are going to turn the electronic scoreboard into a giant TV screen, and there together we are going to watch the dawn service at Gallipoli.
As I said in the forward to the book, Memorial Oval is famous for the great cricketers it has spawned. Bankstown Boys like Steve and Mark Waugh.
But not all our heroes in Bankstown come from the cricket field.
Some sit on the hill looking of them.
This book is dedicated to them.
And the sacred promise made so many years ago that we will remember them.